NEW YORK (MainStreet) – When it comes to financial education and responsibility, college students seem to be headed in the wrong direction.

That’s the conclusion drawn by an extensive survey of the personal finance habits of college students conducted by the University of Arizona and the National Endowment for Financial Education. The authors surveyed University of Arizona students as part of an ongoing project known as the Arizona Pathways to Life Success for University Students.

When the authors published their first wave of findings back in April 2009, the news was bleak: Students on the whole got a failing grade when it came to financial literacy, and some respondents admitted to engaging in such behavior as putting off medical care to save money. Now, America’s (or at least Arizona’s) students are in an even worse situation.

The updates survey now rates students’ overall financial behavior 7% worse than it was in the initial survey, and fewer students were found to be tracking monthly expenses and living within budgets in 2011 than in previous years. Saving is likewise losing popularity among the college set. In each survey, students were asked to rate on a 1-5 scale how often they investing in long-term goals; between 2009 and 2011, the frequency of that behavior dropped 15%. And perhaps most disturbing is that much of this decline in behavior is due to apparent disinterest in personal financial responsibility. Students now have less favorable attitudes toward virtually every aspect of personal finance, no longer looking as favorably upon such virtues as paying credit cards in full every month and saving money for the long term.

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There was one exception, though: Students’ attitudes toward learning more about money management are improving, which is at least one ray of hope for the future. And NEFE suggests that if that improvement is going to continue – and if students are going to start living more responsibly in their financial lives – it’s going to start with the parents.

“Parents, more than anything, exert most influence over children when it comes to developing positive financial attitudes and behaviors – 1.5 times more than continuing financial education and more than twice as much as what children hear from their friends,” said the organization in a statement.

The new school year is right around the corner. For the latest news on all things back-to-school, check out MainStreet’s education coverage.

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